Apple TV

A lack of playable formats and limited functionality really stunts the appeal of the otherwise elegant Apple TV. Read our Australian review.

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CNET Editor

Ty is a journalist with 15 years experience in writing for IT and entertainment publications. He is in charge of the home theatre category for CNET Australia and is also a PC enthusiast. He likes indie music and plays several instruments. Twitter: @tpendlebury

"The revolution will be televised". So says Apple, in its overly hyperbolic fashion about its latest product, the Apple TV. With the Apple TV, the company is trying to stamp its name on digital video the way that it has digital music. If Apple is expecting to start a revolution in the same way that the iPod did, it needs to make it a hell of a lot better than this.

For anyone familiar with the Mac mini or the Airport Extreme there will be no surprises as to the shape of the Apple TV. In fact, when the Airport Extreme first arrived we initially mistook it for the Apple TV. It's roughly 20cm by 20cm and 3cm in height. It's an amalgam of plastic and metal with a rubberized base. Build quality, as you'd expect from Apple, is exceptional.

The Apple TV also ships with the old faithful Apple remote with its iPod-style navigation and Menu button. Unlike the PlayStation 3 it's still infrared, so you can program it into your universal remote for convenience's sake.

Being that it is a home theatre device, the Apple TV features a full complement of outputs, including component, optical, HDMI and stereo RCA. Don't think about getting this device if you only have a composite or S-Video connection on your TV -- it simply won't work. There is a USB port onboard, but strangely this isn't for connecting the iPod -- which seems an obvious thing to do -- but for external hard drives and USB keys. Finally, rounding out the connectivity options are a draft-N adaptor and a LAN port.

Front Row

The Apple TV's Front Row software is one of the best looking media managers we've seen.

The Apple TV has a narrow selection of supported formats, which is one of the main issues with this device. It'll support a few different flavours of MP4, including H.264, as well as supporting MP3 and AAC. The problem with this device is that Apple's other product -- the iPod -- was an MP3 player first, and AAC and the iTunes were a logical next step. It took what was a popular music format and took it beyond the PC in a very successful way; The Apple TV is hindered because it is trying to go the other way: take a moderately successful, region-locked video store and bring it to your TV. And it's trying to do so with its own proprietary video formats. It's doomed to fail because it doesn't use the most popular video format -- DiVX -- at the heart of it. Have the advances made by EMI and Steve Jobs himself meant nothing? DRM doesn't work.

But it's not all bad news -- with its black and white interface the Apple TV (Front Row) software is one of the most dynamic and pleasing GUIs available. It's stylish in every way you expect Apple to be. It's also intuitive, but that said, it's not as simple to use as the iPod.

For all intents and purposes the Apple TV is a hobbled Mac mini; it features a modified version of OSX designed to run Apple's media centre software, Front Row; an NVIDIA GeForce Go 7300 for video; an 802.11n (draft) wireless card; and a low-power Intel processor. The Apple TV's credentials have even inspired a whole community of users dedicated to converting the device into a computer -- with varying degrees of success.

Before you can start synching your iTunes library you first need to connect to your network. You can use either the draft-N wireless connection or the Ethernet port. For a truly stable and secure connection use Ethernet, but if your router is close by a wireless connection should be OK. To set-up either choose Settings from the menu and either "Configure Wireless" or "Configure TCP/IP". Both options are easy to use -- as long as you know your wireless settings. The next part isn't as easy, however.

iTunes synching

Clicking the Apple TV icon and entering the code syncs the two.

iTunes synching

While this five-digit code appears on your TV, the Apple TV device will also appear in your iTunes.

To sync your Apple TV with your iTunes, you navigate to the main menu and select Sources -> Connect To New iTunes. This brings up a five digit code on both your screen and your iTunes. The Apple TV device will appear in your iTunes "Devices" list while these numbers are onscreen, but at NO OTHER TIME. Not even after you've synched them together. This can make it frustrating to set-up and use if your PC is in another room -- as presumably it would be. However, once synched you won't have to worry about it again.

If you want to use the device by itself, and not rely on your iTunes library being open all the time, you can synch the content across to the Apple TV. This is time consuming though: it took six hours to synch 30GB of music via a draft-N wireless connection.

We also showed the Apple TV where our collection of TV shows and video clips was, and from the dozens of DivX and MP4 files available it only liked two -- a little disappointing. But once your content is on there -- whether video or audio -- the performance is quite good. Sound is quite decent, and equal to the Media Centre PC we were using to sync the Apple TV with, even when using the analog outs. Of the two film clips we could view, the quality was good despite their compressed nature.

In addition, you can also synch the iPod to your photo gallery, but for PC it uses a really obscure method, being Adobe Photoshop Elements, instead of iTunes own Photo library. Despite our best efforts, and following the manual to the letter, we weren't able to upload any photos to the Apple TV.

The "killer app", as far as Australia is concerned, is the ability to download film trailers -- certainly not as cool as the US's TV shows or movies, but still saves you the hassle of visiting the Apple Web site. Video quality was dependent on the original trailer, but in most cases it was very watchable.

One thing we didn't appreciate though, was the inability to make playlists -- either on the fly or otherwise -- which is a great pity, because this is one of the greatest strengths of the iPod. You can still make them in iTunes and transfer them, if you can be bothered.

To make Apple TV truly compelling, Apple needs to remove its reliance on a Mac or PC altogether. It can already download trailers from the Apple Web site, all it needs to do now is connect to an iPod.

In the States, this may be a more immediately satisfying product, but the fact is that the Apple TV does very little and does so at a relatively high cost. The Xbox 360 Core is only AU$50 more than this device and, when coupled to your Windows XP Media Centre or Windows Vista Premium PC, performs all the same functions -- as well as play DVDs and Guitar Hero!

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coal posted a comment   

The Good:5

The Bad:5

My problem with the device is the cost to download a movie + the high cost of the apple shop eg AU $12.50 for the movie rental and then a 1.5 gb suck on the download allowance from BPond. It probably costs closer to $28 per video!!!


markfiona posted a review   

The Good:Most things.

The Bad:Video support, no search function for personal media

The main tout is the lack of video support, however this is not entirely Apple's issue, kudos to Gary for the jab (MPAA). However it has a great interface- no.1 IMO and funnily enough a factor in the purchase- way better than X-box, Beyonwiz, Tivo.
The diff with photos on a Tivo vs ATV is large, Apple kills it.
The addition of the internet radio is welcomed. I have been to Expo's of high end home entertainment and seen systems all above $5K that are not as well rounded. The addition of DVD/Blu-ray support would help cement the Apple invasion in HT.
I have a 40GB, paid $300 and with the new software update it has helped my liking- loyalty to a Product. There is not a one-box solution for the Home Theatre but this is a useful addition. Runs hot.


6 Stars posted a reply   

Update to previous post. I have since bought a WD-TV HD and now would need to seriously downgrade my ATV rating to 6 stars. It has no problem with any media other than wmv8. Also ATV have not provided a solution for streaming of photos, I am not purchasing separate software to do this. Adobe PS Album is not free anymore.
Will they make it function with Picasa?


iJoe79 posted a comment   

The Good:Streamlined interface (since 2.0 release), most stable audio bridge on market, OD movie rentals via iTunes, full access to iTunes, great 480/720 SD and HD quality, photo viewing and slideshows access via iPhoto

The Bad:No external hard drive capabilities, chains you to iTunes

I love the Apple TV even if the only features were to rent movies and listen to music this hardware is well worth 300 measly bucks. The simplicity and stability are miles beyond any Windows Media Center machine on the Market. The downside is that Apple wants all of its users to believe that iTunes is the end all and be all of digital media, with no ability to use PVR, Hulu or Boxee without hacking the Apple TV. The real pain with this is the inability to add extra storage. Even if it was chained to Apple storage, like the licensed Lacie drives or Time Capsule, I'd love the ability to fit my entire library via a few TB drives.


Chrisl posted a review   

I love my Apple TV purely for the ability to rent movies on demand. The ability to not have to head to blockbuster or be limited by what movies Foxtel is screening is just great!

<a href=>350-030</a>

350-030 posted a review   

Must say it has really great interface and design.


Gary posted a review   

The Good:Music and Photo importing and usage

The Bad:The dinosaur movie industry needs to join the rest of the world and desist with their annoying, restrictive practices. The music industry has grown up, the movie folks are pathetic. This device could easily stream my purchased dvds to the screen if the movie bozos had clue about marketing.

Music and photo capabilities are excellent and reasonable intuitive.


goddamit posted a review   

The Good:Easy music & video interface.
Sets up like itunes.

The Bad:Only 720 lines max to output.
Must save videos as apple tv to work flawlessly.
A good amp is needed to great a matrix surround effect for music in a theatre.

Very easy to use, manages music, videos(HD) with ease. Only outputs 720 lines of res though. 1080 would be nicer. Only 2 channel stero sound though very good quality as per the source. The 160gb with wireless network is a great size.


canberra_photographer posted a review   

The Good:Great sound and image quality, responsive, intuitive interface, easy to use and set up

The Bad:YouTube is useless, limited video format support, it gets hot but hasn't burnt my furniture yet.

I think too many people are looking at the Apple TV as Apple's answer to the Media Centre PC. A computer with music library, DVD and DVR functionality. It's not, nor was it ever meant to be.
It's an iPod for the television. And if you have an iPod with heaps of music that you'd love to listen to on your home theater system, then the Apple TV is great. Great sound quality and intuitive design coupled with easy setup in a compact package. YouTube access is useless but podcasting is great with SD and HD vodcasts from National Geographic, ESPN, ABC and cNet a nice addition.

Also great is the photo slideshow function, never have family slideshows looked better.

It's simple, costs as much as an iPod Touch and does what it does perfectly and intuitively. In other words, it's a focused device that works great.

Smooth operatoe

Smooth operatoe posted a review   

The Good:it's less than $500.

The Bad:cant play DVD.
Cant play DVIX.
Cant receive and record live TV

Apple TV that cant receive TV reception!. . Can't play DVD unless you ripped your DVD to your PC!(Why?). Towatch TV you need to record on your PC before you can stream it ( How in convenience!). Of course all the Apple die hard will say all this is great. Little did they know that there are other device that already can receive and record HD TV with dual tuners, Stream almost all video and music files from the PC, play DVD, all in one device.

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User Reviews / Comments  Apple TV

  • coal


    "My problem with the device is the cost to download a movie + the high cost of the apple shop eg AU $12.50 for the movie rental and then a 1.5 gb suck on the download allowance from BPond. It proba..."

  • markfiona



    "The main tout is the lack of video support, however this is not entirely Apple's issue, kudos to Gary for the jab (MPAA). However it has a great interface- no.1 IMO and funnily enough a factor in ..."

  • iJoe79


    "I love the Apple TV even if the only features were to rent movies and listen to music this hardware is well worth 300 measly bucks. The simplicity and stability are miles beyond any Windows Media C..."

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